December 22: Jerusalem
I got into my dormitory at New Palm Hostel near the Damascus (दमॅस्कस) gate in the old city of Jerusalem. This hostel is run by Arabs, who I later understood were liberal Palestinians. Dirt cheap – $7 per night for a dorm bed including dinner, and no bed bugs, I thought that was simply great!
The Old city of Jerusalem is a walled city and this is the northern entrance. The gate in its present form was built by the Ottoman Turks in 16th century, but the original gate existed around 2000 years back and was rebuilt by Romans followed by the Crusaders. This gate lies in the Muslim Quarter of the old city and Friday being a holy day for them, there was a flea market outside the gate.
Kotel, The Western wall:
This wall is located on the eastern ridge of the Jewish quarter of the old city. It dates back to the Second Temple period (abt 2000 yrs back) and is venerated as the sole remnant of the Holy Temple. The name Wailing wall is derived from the Jews who mourn at the destruction of the second temple at this wall.
Shabbat at Kotel:
I dropped my luggage at the hostel and immediately went to the Western Wall. Sabbath had already started and the place was full of Jewish devotees dressed in black suits and wearing a thick black hats. No sooner than I donned a Kippah (किप्पा) and entered the grounds, I was pulled into a group of guys singing and dancing. These were boys from Jewish religious school (shul शूल) and I was not sure if they were chanting prayers or just singing songs welcoming Shabbat. Everyone was so joyful about it as if it were a rare occurrence and that left me puzzled. But what a way to celebrate weekend! Bits of the songs are still running in my head. Photography is not permitted this day in the main plaza so I captured this picture from a distant location.
I was looking to eat some genuine Sabbath dinner and I met a Chinese dude and an American girl searching the same. However we were refused at one place because we weren’t Jewish (honestly, I was shocked). So I got back to the hostel and fed upon some vegetable soup that the Arab owner prepared. Some Japanese travelers read the disappointment on my face and shared some of their rice noodles. Then there was a couple from Czech Republic, a
black guy from US who was contemplating conversion to Judaism and people from other countries such as USA, Hong Kong / China and Germany. It was really interesting to meet so many fellow travelers and everyone had lovely stories to share.
Being a light sleeper has its advantages and disadvantages and so is sharing a 7$ dorm with 10 other people. Somebody started snoring uncontrollably and that was the time I thanked Steeve Jobs for making the iPod. Raga Yaman on Sitar, when played at full volume sounds like heavy metal, and it promptly put me to sleep.